reflection by Dr. Mira Neshama Niculescu
“In the third month of the children of Israel's departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai.”
בַּחֹ֨דֶשׁ֙ הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י לְצֵ֥את בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה בָּ֖אוּ מִדְבַּ֥ר סִינָֽי
With these words, we open chapter 19 of the book of Shemot, and the fourth aliyah of Parashat Yitro. Three months after Yitzyiat Mizrayim, B'nai Israel arrive at the place where they will receive Torah. Place matters, but it seems that time does, too: the expression “on this day,” indicates that they arrive on “the new moon,” that is, on Rosh Chodesh (Mechilta shabbat 86 b). But it means more than that.
According to Rashi, with the Tanchuma Buber, the wording is eloquent: the passuk doesn’t say “on that day,” “be yom ha hu,” as would have been the standard way of putting it. It says “on this day,” “be yom ha zeh,” insisting on the uniqueness of the day: “The words of the Torah shall be new to you, as if they were given just today.”
Chitchadshut, renewal, is a central concept in Jewish spirituality. It is central because it is a demanding spiritual practice: renewal means experiencing well-known things as if for the first time.
And we humans tend to lose this sense of newness. As soon as something becomes familiar, we relate to it differently. On the one hand, we build habits, which is very helpful. But on the other hand, we can end up acting by rote. Before we know it, we find ourselves living a great part of our lives- at work, with our partner, with our own bodies and daily habits, on automatic pilot.
A lot of the unhappiness we experience in life comes from this: simply not being present to the here and now. When we lose the freshness of the moment, when we take things for granted, we lose enjoyment.
So it goes with Torah. Parasha after parasha, year after year, we read the same texts. The text may look the same, but when we are mindful, the encounter can be new. Rashi wants us to wake up to this: when we read about the gift of Torah at Sinai, we don’t celebrate an anniversary. We are being given the Torah anew. On “this day.”
How would it feel if we really considered each day, each breath, as completely new? Because, it really is. Enjoy!